BOSTON -- Was Jon Lester in the zone or in The Zone in Boston's 6-3 win over the A's on Saturday?
Depends on whom you listen to.
For the Red Sox, who saw their left-hander throw a one-hitter for eight innings and strike out a career-best 15, Lester was simply at the top of his game. The Zone.
For at least some of the A's, who were barking at home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn almost from first pitch to last, Lester was the beneficiary of a strike zone the size of the Charles River. The zone.
"Some of those pitches on television, they probably look like strikes," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "But when you're in the batter's box, we have a pretty good idea of where the ball's at. With that being said, he still had to throw it there. So he did a good job."
Donaldson was one of four A's batters to strike out twice against Lester, the others being Coco Crisp, Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto. Josh Reddick fanned three times.
Jed Lowrie struck out just once, but he, too, had to deal with an expanded strike zone.
"Yeah, that didn't make it easy on us," Lowrie said. "But neither did Lester."
Lester, the beneficiary of a first-inning grand slam from Jonny Gomes, struck out two in the first, two in the second, three in the third and two in the fourth. Only in the seventh inning did he fail to strike anyone out.
Lester's day couldn't have been more different from that of A's starter Tommy Milone, who was facing Boston for just the second time in his career. Milone loaded the bases with no one out in the first thanks in part to two walks, then saw Gomes jump on a first pitch and catapult it over the Green Monster, all 37 feet of it, in left field.
Milone's specialty is throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count, and he did neither Saturday. He hasn't followed that recipe much at all this season, one reason the A's are winless in his five starts.
"It was just a case of too many walks," Milone said. "I set that inning up for them with that one big hit, the one that Gomes got. If I don't walk two guys, then it's not a grand slam, it's only a two-run homer. That's still not good but ...
"I've got to make better pitches; I've got to throw more strikes. I felt like I did later on."
Lester did from beginning to end. The one thing all those strikeouts did was run up Lester's pitch count. He was at 119 pitches after issuing a leadoff walk in the eighth, then striking out the side. That meant manager John Farrell had to go to his bullpen in the ninth, and when he chose Chris Capuano, the A's fortunes changed.
A double by Punto, a single from Crisp and a Lowrie double got one run home, and Gomes' throwing error added a second score. Later in the inning, a throwing error by catcher David Ross allowed Oakland to get a third run home.
Oakland had the tying run at the plate with no one out, but Koji Uehara got a grounder, a strikeout and a liner, and the Sox escaped with a three-run win.
The question now is what is to be done about the back end of the rotation with Friday loser Dan Straily (1-2, 5.01) and Milone (0-3, 5.86) limping along. The A's are 18-12 overall, and they are just 2-10 in games not started by Sunday starter Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.
"It certainly hasn't been as productive as the front three," manager Bob Melvin said when asked about his concerns regarding the back end of the rotation. "You could probably look at any team, and the back end is not going to be as good as the front end."
For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Inside the A's blog at ibabuzz.com/athletics.
A's (Sonny Gray 4-1) at Boston (John Lackey 4-2), 10:35 a.m. CSNCA